Faith, hope and learning

t St. Cecilia has families lined up for a Catholic education.

Bainbridge Island now has a Catholic school of its own.

St. Cecilia Catholic School this month earned affiliation with the Archdiocese of Seattle, bringing the school the financial, professional development, legal and moral support of the ninth largest K-12 school district in Washington.

The school that started out as the Mustard Seed pre-school and kindergarten in fall 2001 now boasts first and second grades, and will add a grade each year until it offers K-8. Parents who have the choice of sending their children to a Catholic school nearby say they are pleased.

“There is an emphasis (at a Catholic school) on the whole child that you can’t get at a public institution,” said Carol Gelinek, who has daughters in the first and second grade at St. Cecilia.

Since receiving affiliation, principal Anna Kamber says she has been fielding several calls a day from families interested in enrolling their children. Enrollment for next year doubled in a month to 61, and there is a waiting list for the current K-2 grades.

Of the attraction of a Catholic school, Kamber said, “parents are looking for a more innocent environment. There’s a shared sense of mission between the school and parents so there is very little bureaucracy, and we can focus on the basics.”

The core curriculum includes the usual reading, writing, social studies, science, and math, but also French, religion, drama, handwriting, swimming, gymnastics and art history, taught by local artists Liz Midas, Marcia Millican and Lara Canon.

Not all students are Catholic. In fact, Kamber says the current first grade class is more diverse than the average public school class, with children from the Buddhist and Jewish faiths.

The school has a strong scholarship program with a certain amount earmarked each year.

Parents are required to volunteer 30 hours at the school, “but my sense is they put in far more than 30,” Kamber said. “It seems I just have to ask and they are there.”

Gelinek says having had one daughter, now 16 years old, go through the Bainbridge public school system, they had no complaints.

But St. Cecilia has small classes with a 1:15 teacher-to-student ratio and great emphasis on academics; public school classes average 25-30 students a class.

There is also the difference of parochial education.

“(In public schools) there’s something spiritually missing for parents and kids,” Gelinek said. “(Spirituality) is not just at the weekend service, but something that happens every day.”

Gelinek also says that the incorporation of enrichment programs into the school day such as swimming, gymnastics and a “fabulous art history class” means that her daughters can just come home each afternoon, and not be shuttled from one after-school program to another.

At present, enrollment is limited by space, but Kamber says plans are to put up a new school building in two years to replace the current facility, the former church and rectory for St. Cecilia Church.

If another site were found before then, the school would begin construction even sooner.

Kamber says it’s not known how many Bainbridge children attend Catholic schools in Seattle, but at least six families next year are transferring their children from a Seattle Catholic school to St. Cecilia, she said.

After 20 years teaching in both Catholic and public schools including Blakely and Woodward, Kamber came aboard as principal last July, but also helped St. Cecilia get its application written and passed for affiliation.

While she praises the Bainbridge school system, Kamber welcomes the additional dimension religion brings to the school. “Because it is a spiritually-based curriculum, God is an ever-present teacher in class, and it feels like there is a greater sense of innocence,” she said.

“Instead of being value-neutral, it’s value-based.”

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